Meet the Digital Leader: Rhys Norris – Early Intervention and Prevention Officer, Cynon Taf Community Housing Group
Rhys Norris discusses his time as Housing Officer and more recently, Early Intervention and Prevention Officer at Cynon Taf Community Housing Group, including development of ‘Digital Fridays’ and the ‘Get RCT Online Group’ which has played an integral role in increasing the number of people online locally and building their digital confidence – highlighting the importance of participation, accessibility and sharing for digital health and inclusion to flourish.
How long have you been involved in digital health/inclusion and what positions have you held?
Since starting work with Cynon Taf Community Housing Group in 2014, I have been involved with digital inclusion in addition to my roles as a Housing Officer and now an Early Intervention and Prevention Officer.
What has been your proudest moment while in the sector?
Being part of the incredibly successful ‘Digital Fridays RCT’ which is a fantastic initiative that helps people get started online in an informal and friendly setting. It’s [‘Digital Fridays RCT’ is] a wonderful partnership between sectors including Digital Communities Wales, Communities for Work, libraries, housing associations, charities, DWP and many more. ‘Digital Fridays’ and the ‘Get RCT Online Group’ have played an integral role in increasing the number of people online locally and building their digital confidence.
What do hope to achieve during your tenure?
To help as many people get connected and have a meaningful experience of the online world as possible.
In your view, what is the key to being a good Digital Leader?
To really listen. This means listening to the people I help get online, understanding their difficulties and concerns and offering considerate advice and guidance. It also means listening to partners and colleagues to learn from their vast knowledge and experience either when helping someone in Digital Fridays or when trying to improve digital inclusion in general.
What do you think will be the biggest changes in digital health and/or inclusion in the coming years?
The access and control of your own data. We as individuals leave an astonishing amount of data trailing throughout the internet. This information is used for various reasons such as profiling, statistics and advertising. The data we leave is valuable financially, socially and personally. I believe over time people will have greater control of their data and be able to not only see their data and understand it easily but also control how it is being used and by whom. Access to data is already growing in the health sector as more and more patients are able to access their medical records online.
The smart tech field has erupted in recent years with the introduction of personal assistants such as the Amazon Echo and Google home devices. These devices have a myriad of functions like playing music or making phone and video calls to controlling smart tech in your home like light switches or thermostats. The technology is still new and will take time to develop but the possibilities are endless with how they can be utilised in our daily lives. Examples could be contacting your GP or having a reminder to take your medication.
There’s also wearable technology such as smart watches and pedometers. These devices can pack in a tremendous amount of technology that not only count steps or act as remotes for your smart phone but can also be a heart rate monitor which can alert medical services if you are having any complications. The wearable technology can also be accompanied by home devices that can record your other vital information such as insulin levels or lung capacity that could report directly to your health provider in order for them to monitor your health and adapt your treatment if required. It’s fascinating stuff and could transform the way in which we understand our own health and are able to make adjustments to improve our life expectancy and quality of life.
The growth in smart phones has been supported by the development of applications. More recently apps have started to evolve particularly with the growth in wearable tech whereby people are becoming more aware of their physical and mental wellbeing. There are many applications that help people track their health, including; monitoring diet, mood, and fertility as well as other aspects. The apps mean the smart phones are becoming tools for our wellbeing rather than just a computer in your pocket.
Tremendous work being undertaken in biotechnology where tech firms are building devices to enhance people’s abilities such as; robotic limbs and exoskeletons controlled through thought or virtual and augmented reality devices that help people with visual impairment to see. Hopefully these advances in technology will be accessible to all who need them in the future.
In your view what are the key principals of effective digital health and/or inclusion?
To include the public in technological developments. New technology should have genuine users involved throughout its development to ensure they have a practical use and are more likely to be adopted.
One of the most inspiring things to come out of the growth in new technology has been how it has embraced inclusivity, helping otherwise excluded groups engaging in society. Great examples are the accessibility features of smart phones and tablets as well the internet itself giving a voice and connections to those who otherwise faced restrictions in the physical world. As mentioned, there’s exciting work being undertaken around biotech helping people with disabilities use technology to gain or regain physical abilities.
Knowledge and resource sharing
There are plenty of organisations and services within communities open to working with health providers and developers to offer insight and knowledge as well as being able to trial new technology. It is important the big and small tech firms embrace the value the public and third sector can offer. This also includes the importance of working together within our communities, especially the value of the different generations supporting one another. It is up to us all to help each other, especially the more vulnerable in our communities. Bringing people together is the best way to share knowledge and experience to help improve everyone’s lives.
In your experience, what are the biggest barriers to those in need getting access to digital health and/or inclusion provisions?
Affordability is still the biggest barrier for most people who are digitally excluded. The irony is that people will save more money being online than the cost of hardware and an internet connection. There is much more we can do to help people access the internet affordably.
The internet and technology can be intimidating if you haven’t used it before. There is lots of work to do to increase peoples’ skills and confidence online and Digital Fridays RCT is a great example of helping people take their first steps.
As technology and health services develop, they will need to be relevant to people’s everyday lives and must be better than the status quo. It is also important to remember that service provision must remain available for those who can’t or won’t go online.
I often encounter resistance to going online as it can be perceived as dangerous or threatening. There is still lots to do, not only to show how great and useful the internet is but also building people’s resilience and knowledge of how to protect themselves online.
What should digital transformation of healthcare look like?
Natural – The digital transformation of healthcare should be seen as just a natural part of people’s everyday lives.
For more information on Cynon Taf Community Housing Group’s housing and support services, go to: www.cynon-taf.org.uk/welcome-to-cynon-taf-housing-association.